Social media challenges for business

Social media is still a frontier in many ways, and a surreal one at that: the features are always shifting, expectations change constantly, and the platforms have been known to evolve in a matter of hours.

Learning to navigate this Dali-esque environment can be a daunting challenge for many businesses entering into the social space. Even the “experts” tell you different things about what is best practice, and even the most experienced netizens will make major errors from time to time.

Here are a few cardinal markers for your social media compass:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything

grrMost companies enter the Social Media Fail Zone when they post negative messages about colleagues, clients, or competitors. In fact, it’s best to leave the negative stuff off your business social media feeds altogether. Even if you’re posting *about* bad stuff (like “Hurricane OMG”), make sure to remain positive, or at the very least, neutral. People have lost countless jobs over ill-advised social media posts…and claiming that you didn’t understand what you were doing (“Those messages were meant for a colleague”) only adds fuel to the fire.

A client recently pointed me to a competitor site, at which were posted outright lies about my client’s business—without explicitly naming names—and used the falsehoods to try to make themselves look better. Small business owners and their clients often move in the same social circles, and word gets around, especially if it’s about bad behavior. Be gracious. Doing so makes *everyone* look better, and if you rise above your competitors’ snarks, you stand to do better in the long run.

I’ve made the mistake myself of posting snark in a fit of pique.
I make efforts to apologize as soon as I recognize the error.

The second biggest mistake is posting something stupid and then attempting to backfill and rationalize. The best approach is simply to apologize: simply, completely, and honestly. Try to avoid sounding like the guy who’s merely sorry he got caught. If you goofed, fix it. Even if you think you did or said absolutely the right thing, but someone was genuinely upset, move swiftly to make sure your audience sees that you understand *why* someone might be upset or offended, and do something good. Degenerating into flame wars or troll-like behavior will alienate your audience more quickly than wildfire consumes drought-stricken prairie grass. Instead, turn it into an opportunity to delight this customer and your audience, if at all possible.

622px-Ett_gammalt_bergtrollA corollary to this is: don’t feed the trolls. If a post gets “trolled”, meaning you get responses that are disproportionately vitriolic or pitched to evoke an emotional response, DON’T respond, and discourage others from doing so. It’s a no-win scenario otherwise. I once spent—I kid you not—24 hours straight in a “conversation” with a troll to see how far it could go, and I can attest that it goes nowhere. The conversation circled back on itself multiple times, the troll couldn’t argue his point with any sort of logic or research or reason. Because this was a conscious test on my part, I remained dispassionate through the whole process, but know that these kinds of commenters are *specifically* working to draw you out and make you lose your cool. Don’t. Don’t even engage with them. It’s your choice whether you want to suppress such commenters on platforms where that’s possible. Just know that your audience is watching at ALL times. If you engage with a troll, nobody wins, least of all you, and you’re likely to say something regrettable in the process.

Three blips to keep on the radar

There are three primary areas where businesses need assistance with social media, in our experience:

Figuring out what resonates with your audience can often feel like crossing an ocean with no compass, no sextant, no radar
…and no light.

  1. Understand the “social” aspect of social media. Social media is not a place for advertising, it’s a place for engagement. It’s a way to give a voice and a personality to your business, to engage in conversations; a necessary part of that is clear and positive communication with the audience.
    • Asking questions prompts people to respond—but make sure you already have a good relationship with your audience, or you might be opening yourself up to trolls.
    • Soliciting input in the form of images or hashtag trends can sometimes be risky, as we see in Twitter all the time, and sometimes it turns into a fantastic viral trend. Figuring out what resonates with your audience can often feel like crossing an ocean with no compass, no sextant, no radar and no light.
    • Offer coupons, but also talk about fun aspects of your business (“A funny thing happened on the way to a client…”). Selling AT your audience all the time turns them off. Engaging WITH them helps them feel like part of a family.
    • If someone tweets about your company, acknowledge it quickly! If they’re having trouble with some aspect of your product or service, and post something about it, act quickly to assist them, and be ready to eat a little crow if necessary. Don’t cover up. That never works.
  2. Take advantage of integrations
    1. Use integrations, but don’t let them control your presence. There are lots of cross-platform broadcast tools that let you write once, post anywhere, but there are hazards to that approach: you’ll want to tailor your tone on the various platforms, because each one is geared to a slightly different crowd, with different expectations. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram: there is not a one size fits all social media post in most cases.
    2. Do use integrations that allow customers to access promotions, newsletter signups, and so on, within your Facebook and other social business pages. Making your customers leap through multiple hoops is discouraging. Keep them on your page as long as possible–the way to do that is to keep their experience as simple as possible.
  3. Separate your personal accounts from your business accounts. Social media has become a trolling free-for-all in many ways. Many small businesses, especially those whose members have had personal accounts on Facebook for a while, have some difficultly detaching from the no-holds-barred attitude that often accompanies social media commenting. Keep personal and business accounts and attitudes separate—the only exception to that is if your business’ actual brand is built on a specific stance already. But keep in mind that politics can ruin a business, as we’ve seen with proprietors who refused to serve certain segments of their customer base because of personal ideology. A business’ fortunes can rise or fall based on how well they handle their social media.

We see lots of social media mistakes, especially with people who are new to the idea of social media publishing for business.

Sometimes it really is lack of knowledge. Mistakes do happen; for example, we’ve worked with small business owners who started out posting to their personal pages about the business, not knowing that they should really be posting from a business page, and putting distance between themselves and many of their actual friends. This typically happens when the business owner is neither familiar nor comfortable with technology, and somewhere along the way, they heard “your business should be on social media!”; it’s easy to imagine that social media is this nifty new free platform on which to post ads. But business and personal followers/friends are likely two VERY different audiences!

Most of the time, in our experience it comes down to a lack of understanding about the “conversational” aspect, and the extremely transparent nature of social media. Someone is ALWAYS watching, and it has become a truism that “the internet is a wonderful place where everyone is just waiting to be offended about something.”

Understand the consequences

I read an example recently of an employee of a large enterprise company posted some very nasty public tweets about a coworker. He followed up with a bunch of bizarre and nearly incomprehensible tweets to other major businesses. He then went back and claimed that he was new to Twitter and thought he was sending the message privately to a colleague, and then switched THAT up, and said that he was tired, overworked, etc.

But the damage was done. He was summarily dismissed from the company, and the *company* tweeted from their account that they have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying behavior. Let’s be frank: nobody in the social media world really cares if you’ve had a bad day, and will not be willing to chalk bad behavior up to “long day” or other personal excuses.

Nobody in the social media world cares if you’ve had a bad day.

In other cases, business have actually gone under as a result of their owners’ political or ideological stance. Without going into too much detail, there are a number of stories of businesses whose personal ideology was so repugnant to their neighbors that they were boycotted, publicly shamed and forced out of business.

Also?…

Don’t drunk text!

Yes, it’s really a thing: drunk texting. People do it all the time, thinking they have some brilliant idea or bit of universe-changing new wisdom, and end up sounding like an idiot in anything outside their own heads. Seriously. Don’t drink and text.

Where to start…

So, how to navigate these treacherous waters and help your business? Remembering that social media is really a conversation in a crowded room, it boils down to a few basic principles:

  • Know your audience.
  • Know your platform — repurposing content is a GREAT strategy, but you must also use the tone appropriate to that channel.
  • Engage WITH your audience instead of selling AT them — be willing to have conversations. If you’re going to take risks, be prepared for both positive and negative responses.
  • Stay positive, and learn to turn even unpleasant situations into “everyone wins” scenarios.
  • “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything”. Refrain from engaging in “flame wars” with anyone—customers, employees, competitors, etc.—or remain silent altogether. Respond positively where at all possible. Be gracious.
  • Keep your personal ideology out of your business’ social media activities. Politics and business really don’t mix, and unless it’s an actual part of your brand, it can often result in PR disasters.
  • Avoid oversharing—transparency is good, and at the same time, your audience may not want to know that the office dog did something nasty in the boss’ chair…unless that’s part of your brand! 🙂
  • If you goof up, fix it. Immediately and publicly. Let your audience know that you’re truly sorry, and make every effort to turn it into a positive experience. But don’t spin—people can smell fake from halfway around the world. And don’t try to cover up. That NEVER works.
  • Don’t feed the trolls.

SheTech and Company has been providing web-based business solutions (web sites, e-commerce, marketing and social media, online documentation) for nearly twenty years. Offering enterprise-level integrated marketing services from online to print to multimedia, SheTech and Company works with companies whose internal marketing resources are stretched too thin, or are in need of outside assistance to handle large strategic projects. SheTech and Company brings expertise and deep business understanding, providing years of expertise and an “outside-in” perspective.

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